In a city where fire, water, land, and air residents live together, a fiery young woman and a go-with-the-flow guy discover something elemental: how much they actually have in common.
Elemental is a solid entry in the Disney/Pixar canon, but it’s missing the spark that made its predecessors so magical. The movie opens with a neat little Ellis-Island parallel, establishing that the fantastical Element City grew with different waves of elements/immigrants, meeting our fiery heroine Ember and seeing her early years living and working in her parent’s shop, a cornerstone of the Fire-Person expatriate community. We’re quickly introduced to Wade, a hilariously emotionally-sensitive Water-Person, and a teense-weense bit of conflict is thrown into the mix to force the two together.
The immigrant-experience narrative is executed fairly well, with its lack of direct parallel to any one culture hammering home the universality of the diasporic experience while still feeling authentic. The love story between the two leads is the movie’s strongest element (I honestly tried to use a different word, get over it), and I had a nice little moment of realisation at the midpoint when I realised “oh it’s just a romance”. There’s no real outside source of complication to drive a wedge between the characters, just the difference in what they expect from themselves and others.
As lovely as all of this is, it doesn’t quite feel like it’s got enough meat on its bones to justify its runtime, and apart from one notably lovely musical number the score was completely forgettable. While the themes of acceptance and understanding others are no doubt valuable for kids, the love story feels like it would strike a chord with a (slightly) older audience, and apart from a few chuckles there’s not much in it for the grown-ups. I really enjoyed the absence of distracting celebrity voices, I was definitely never bored, and I had a few good cries (but I’m a Water-Person so that doesn’t mean much), but it’s definitely relegated to the middle tier of Pixar’s back catalogue.
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